Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Turkey's Islamists deny Armenian genocide

Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Energy Publisher
by Adrian Morgan

Turkey admits that large numbers of Armenians died in 1915, but says they died as from forced deportation and taking up arms against the ailing Ottoman Empire. It refuses to acknowledge that there was a genocide.

On Wednesday, October 10, the House of Congress' House Foreign Affairs Committee voted by 27 votes to 21 to pass a non-binding resolution to classify actions which took place in Turkey in 1915 as "genocide". The full text of the resolution includes the statements: "The House of Representatives finds the following:

(1) The Armenian Genocide was conceived and carried out by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923, resulting in the deportation of nearly 2,000,000 Armenians, of whom 1,500,000 men, women, and children were killed, 500,000 survivors were expelled from their homes, and which succeeded in the elimination of the over 2,500-year presence of Armenians in their historic homeland.

(2) On May 24, 1915, the Allied Powers, England, France, and Russia, jointly issued a statement explicitly charging for the first time ever another government of committing `a crime against humanity'.

(3) This joint statement stated `the Allied Governments announce publicly to the Sublime Porte that they will hold personally responsible for these crimes all members of the Ottoman Government, as well as those of their agents who are implicated in such massacres'.

(4) The post-World War I Turkish Government indicted the top leaders involved in the 'organization and execution' of the Armenian Genocide and in the `massacre and destruction of the Armenians'. "

The day before the resolution was put to a vote, President George W. Bush warned against the passing of the resolution, saying: "This resolution is not the right response to these historic mass killings." Turkey, whose current government is led by Islamists of the AKP (Justice & Development Party), reacted angrily to the initial vote, which is expected to be presented before the entire House of Congress.

Abdullah Gül, who recently became the first Islamist President since modern Turkey was officially established in 1923, said the vote was "unacceptable". He claimed that some US politicians had "sought to sacrifice big problems for small domestic political games". Turkey withdrew Nabi Sensoy, its ambassador from Washington, as soon as the vote was passed. The president of Armenia, Robert Kocharyan, supported the committee's vote and said he hoped it would lead to full US recognition of the genocide.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee's decision on the vote had split mostly along party lines, with democrats supporting it and Republicans opposing it. On the floor of Congress, the bill had the sponsorship of 226 representatives, mostly democrats. One of the co-sponsors of the bill, Luis Fortuno of Puerto Rico, changed his committee vote following direct lobbying by the US president. It will now be the decision of Nancy Pelosi to introduce the resolution to the vote of the Full House of Congress (where Fortuno will not be able to vote).

Democrat Tom Lantos, the only US politician to have survived the Holocaust, is chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. He opened discussions by saying: "We have to weigh the desire to express our solidarity with the Armenian people... against the risk that it could cause young men and women in the uniform of the United States armed services to pay an even heavier price than they are currently paying." Lantos, told AFP news agency that he would introduce a resolution praising US-Turkish friendship this week.

The United States, along with the efficiency of its military operations in Iraq, certainly stands to lose from deteriorating relations with Turkey. The US military employs Incirlik Air Base near Adana in southeastern Turkey to fly most of its supplies to its troops in Iraq.

A senior legislator in Turkey's ruling AKP, Egemen Bagis, visited Capitol Hill on Tuesday to warn that the bill would threaten military cooperation. He told Reuters: "This resolution will put your troops in harm's way. We will not be able to extend the current cooperation we are providing to you. If our allies are insulting us with crimes we have not committed, we will start questioning the merits of that endeavor."

President Abdullah Gül sent a letter to George W. Bush before the vote was taken, to thank him for his personal attempts to urge members to vote down the resolution. The US administration is now trying to limit damage. On Friday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke to Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and also foreign minister Ali Babacan. She said: "They were dismayed."

Two US officials went to Turkey on Saturday to bolster relations between the two nations and prevent possible restrictions on US military operations in Turkey. Eric Edelman, a former US ambassador to Turkey, and Dan Fried arrived in Ankara, the capital, and met Ertugrul Apakan, a Turkish minister in the foreign ministry.

The Armenian prime minister, Serge Sarkisian will be arriving in Washington on Wednesday October 17, a move guaranteed to add to US/Turkish tensions. His visit had been planned months previously.

While US and Turkish politicians were fretting about the outcome of the resolution, another development was taking place. Turkey was planning to mount its own independent military incursion into Kurdish Northern Iraq, the least unstable region within Iraq. There are fears that such an invasion could destabilize all Iraqi regions. Concerns about this invasion force led crude oil to reach a record high of $84 per barrel on Friday. Most Iraqi oil production is in the south, but a key crude oil pipeline runs from Baku in Azerbaijan through Georgia to the port of Ceyhan in southeastern Turkey, where it is then placed on tankers. The political fallout from an invasion could lead to problems with distribution at the Turkish end.

The US has tried to urge Turkey not to mount its independent incursion into northern Iraq, but the mood in Turkey is not compromising. Already prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed on Saturday that he did not need permission to enter northern Iraq. The reason for the proposed incursion is that members of the Kurdish separatist party, PKK (Workers Party of Kurdistan), have recently mounted a series of attacks in southeastern Turkey. Thirty people have been killed over the past month. The PKK fighters have fled across the border into northern Iraq.

PKK terrorists warned on Friday that they would be returning to Turkey from their enclaves in northern Iraq, to mount terror strikes on police. This is unlikely to stop Turkey's administration from requesting its parliament this week for approval for its venture. On Wednesday last week, prime minister Erdogan claimed that his party wanted a year-long authorization for mounting possible attacks against PKK bases in northern Iraq. He suggested such incursions would not necessarily start immediately.

Kartet, a private company in Turkey, supplies electricity to Iraq. On Thursday, the Turkish daily newspaper Hürriyet announced that a senior official from the Energy Ministry said that Kartet would no longer be supplying power to Iraq, due to Turkey's own power needs. He did not state whether this action was part of a sanctions package against Iraq, connected with logistical support and refuge to PKK terrorists being provided in northern Iraq.

Condoleezza Rice has said that she would want to stop the submission of the resolution on Armenian genocide to the full House of Congress, but admitted that it would be "tough". Such a resolution could hardly come at a worse time for the current US administration, but there is no "right time" to discuss the issue, when it involves a matter of historical truth. The fault ultimately lies with Turkey, for being so intransigent in its denial of documented fact. If Turkey can blackmail and threaten the safety of US troops as a direct result of the recent resolution, then the US should seriously question the worth of maintaining deep trust in such an "ally".

Turkey's Denial of Armenian Genocide

The UN Convention on Genocide took place in December 1948. Article Two of this declaration describes genocide as the implementation of acts designed "to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group."

Turkey admits that large numbers of Armenians died in 1915, but says that they died as a by-product of forced deportation and because some Armenians took up arms against the ailing Ottoman Empire. It refuses to acknowledge that there was a "genocide". Turkey claims that during World War 1, no more than 300,000 Armenians died, though overwhelming evidence suggests that between 1915 and 1917, 1.5 million Armenians died. If Turkey had been more mature about its history, as Germany has been concerning the Nazi genocide of 6.5 million Jews, the issue would have been laid to rest long ago.

As the situation now stands, Turkey has no diplomatic relations with its small neighbor Armenia, as a result of its obstinate denial of the truth. In 1993, the border with Armenia was closed by the Turks. There were tentative moves towards a thawing of the diplomatic frostiness in April 2005, but these came to nothing. The stumbling blocks again concerned issues of the Armenian genocide.

In May 2005, Turkey's justice minister Cemil Cicek blocked a conference of Turkish academics who wanted to critically discuss the historical facts of the deaths of Armenians. In September 2005, just 10 days before Turkey was to begin talks about its possible accession to the European Union, a second attempt to hold this conference was banned by a court order. The legal move had been instigated by a group of nationalist lawyers.

The denials of what took place particularly in 1915 are upheld by the Islamists in Turkey, and also the secularists. The AKP party is the first Islamist party to rule Turkey. Previous attempts to form an Islamist government were suppressed with coups mounted by the pro-secular military. The last elected Islamist government was dissolved by the military in 1996.

Within Turkey, anyone who denies the official version of "history" runs the risk of falling foul of Article 301 of the penal code. This outlaws any "insult against Turkey or Turkishness". The maximum penalty for breaching Article 301 is a three-year jail term. Article 301 had been rewritten in June 2005 in a package of amendments to the existing penal code. The penal code had been altered to make Turkey eligible to join talks on membership of the European Union. No-one in the EU appeared to notice that Article 301, in both its original and revised state, contravened Article 19 of the 1948 International Declaration of Human Rights - the right to freedom of speech.

Orhan Pamuk is Turkey's most famous novelist, whose novel "Snow" has been has been acclaimed as a modern "classic". In 2006, Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. In February 2005, Pamuk had given an interview to a Swiss newspaper. In this interview, he referred to the killings of Armenians, but he did not mention the term "genocide". He said that in the 20th century "a million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in these lands [Turkey],"but few spoke of this. His statement contradicted the "official version" of the truth, and on December 16, 2006, Pamuk appeared in court, charged with breaching Article 301.

Pamuk's impending trial had drawn international criticism of Turkey, but prime minister Erdogan claimed that foreign critics were putting pressure on Turkey's judiciary. He said: "I find that a little controversial to the principle of respecting the rule of law... I don't think the way they act is very proper in this case."

On the first day of Pamuk's trial at Sisli district criminal court in Istanbul, Judge Metin Aydin adjourned the case to February. He was unsure if the case was to be brought under the original penal code, instituted by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, or under the revised penal code. If the trial was made under the old conditions of the penal code, the justice minister (then Cemil Cicek) would have to issue a ruling. Pamuk's appearance at the court was greeted by angry crowds. Most of these were militant nationalists, sometimes called "Kemalists". As he entered the courtroom, a woman hit him with a folder. As he was driven away, his car was pelted with eggs.

On January 23, 2006, it was announced that Turkey had dropped its case against Pamuk. The novelist was luckier than Turkish Armenian Hrant Dink.

On October 7, 2005, a court in the southeastern city of Sanliurfa initiated proceedings against Hrant Dink, on charges of breaching Article 301. Mr Dink was the owner and editor of a bilingual magazine called Agos. The Sanliurfa trial had concerned comments that Dink had made at a 2002 conference, where he had referred to a verse that must be memorized by all students. This verse starts with the words: "I am a Turk, I am honest and hardworking." Dink had told the conference that he was honest and hardworking, but he was not a Turk. He was an Armenian. That trial was never completed, for reasons I will explain below.

On October 7, 2005, Dink was sentenced by the Sisli Court of Second Instance at Istanbul at the culmination of another trial where he had been accused of breaching Article 301 by "insulting Turkish identity". All Dink had done to "insult Turkish identity" was to publish a series of articles extolling the virtues of "Armenian identity" and to write of the way that the Armenian genocide still impacted on modern Turkish life. Dink was given a suspended six month jail term. He appealed against this conviction in 2006, but the decision against him was upheld.

Dink's trials and subsequent tribulations, as well as the international brouhaha stirred up by US politicians mentioning a genuine historical event, point to an affliction in the heart of Turkey's national identity. Quasi-fascistic Turkish nationalism is the infectious and suppurating byproduct of the unhealed wounds of Turkish history. And in the background, not acknowledged by predominantly Muslim Turkey, and never mentioned in the Western media, is another dimension to the case of the Armenian genocide. The Armenians are Christian.

The deportations of Armenians in 1915 is acknowledged by Turkey. What is not acknowledged is that they were deported precisely because they were Christian, and had their own cultural identity and language. Ethnic cleansing is the handmaiden of genocide, and Turkey in 1915 was openly practicing ethnic cleansing, a practice that had started at the end of the 19th century. In the 21st century, only scoundrels can make political capital from defending the indefensible.

Because of Turkey's obstinate denials, other countries have made official rulings attesting that the Armenian genocide took place. In 1982, Cyprus' House of Representatives passed a resolution. The European Parliament passed a resolution in 1987. This move did stop Turkey attempting to join the European Union, a factor which should hearten US Republicans and administrative officials who fear a House of Congress vote. After all, there are 1.5 million US citizens of Armenian descent, many of whom had ancestors directly affected by the Armenian genocide. Their opinions should count far more than the hurt pride of a temperamental NATO ally that is currently threatening to throw its toys out of the baby carriage because it doesn't like the truth.

Greece made a resolution in 1996 and even established an Armenian Genocide Day. Switzerland's National Council passed a resolution in 2003 and Canada's House of Commons passed a resolution in 2004. Slovakia's National Assembly made a resolution in 2004. Argentina passed a law in 2006, and Chile's Senate passed a resolution in 2007.

In France, where 500,000 Armenians live, a resolution was passed in 2001, but on October 12, 2006, a bill was passed which made denial of the Armenian genocide a crime, potentially punishable by a one-year prison sentence and a $60,000 fine. The move was carried in the French National Assembly by 106 votes to 19. Before the French vote took place, Islamist prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called it a "systematic lie machine" but claimed Turkey would not engage in "tit-for"tat" reprisals.

The day before the French vote, a judicial committee had debated two moves to introduce laws to parliament which would have described France's actions in its war with its former colony of Algeria as "genocide". A third draft bill was discussed by the justice commission, which would have made anyone who claimed that there was an Armenian genocide would be jailed. Article 301 already allows for such punishment. All three draft bills were rejected. However, Ankara warned that French companies would be banned from major economic projects in Turkey should the French bill become law, an obvious "tit-for-tat" reprisal.

Hrant Dink opposed the punitive aspects of the French law. He said to a newspaper: "This is idiocy. It only shows that those who restrict freedom of expression in Turkey and those who try to restrict it in France are of the same mentality." On TV, he said: "I am standing trial in Turkey for saying it was genocide. If this bill is adopted, I will go to France and, in spite of my conviction, I will say it was not genocide. The two countries can then compete to see who throws me in jail first."

Hrant Dink was born on September 15, 1954 in Malatya, the town in central Turkey where three Christians had their throats slit on April 18 this year. He founded the magazine Agos on April 5, 1996. The intention of this publication was to foster understandings between the Turkish and Armenian communities in Turkey. Dink believed that the Armenian community lived in too much isolation. The attention drawn to him by his high-profile trials brought his life under threat.

Agos had its offices in central Istanbul. On January 19, 2007 Hrant Dink was leaving his offices when a teenager wearing a white Muslim skullcap approached him. The youth fired three shots into the 53-year old editor's head and neck. Dink slumped down dead on the spot. His teenaged killer shouted out "I shot the infidel" before running off.

Hrant Dink was aware of death threats which had been made against him for daring to speak of the Armenian genocide. One threat he received by email seemed so serious he turned it over to the Sisli prosecutor's office, but his complaint was ignored. In his last article for Agos, Dink wrote: "How real or unreal are these threats? To be honest, it is of course impossible for me to know for sure. What is truly threatening and unbearable for me is the psychological torture I personally place myself in. "Now what are these people thinking about me?" is the question that really bugs me. It is unfortunate that I am now better known than I once was and I feel much more the people throwing me that glance of "Oh, look, isn't he that Armenian guy?"

And I reflexively start torturing myself. One aspect of this torture is curiosity, the other unease. One aspect is attention, the other apprehension. I am just like a pigeon... Obsessed just as much what goes on my left, right, front, back. My head is just as mobile... and just as fast enough to turn right away."

After his death, his son Arat Dink took over the editing of Agos. When Arat Dink decided to reproduce one of his father's 2006 articles which mentioned the Armenian genocide, he too was hauled before the courts, charged under Article 301 for "insulting Turkish identity". Only last week, while Turkey officially fulminated at the US mention of its genocide, Arat Dink was sentenced. On Thursday October 11, 2007, he and a colleague from the magazine were both given suspended jail terms of one year.

Tomorrow, in Part Two, I will outline the cultural and historical background of the first massacres against the Armenians in Turkey. These would lead inevitably to the genocide which took place in the First World War. Genocides never happen in a vacuum as isolated events. Often, as in the case of Russian pogroms against peasants, there are campaigns of deliberate starvation. In the case of the Armenian genocide starvation was used as a weapon (see picture at top of page).

Without incidents such as the German attacks on Jewish shops that took place on "Crystalnacht", there would not have been a climate that later allowed the Nazis to conduct mass exterminations of Jews. Similarly, in the case of the Armenian genocide, the events of 1915 to 1917 were preceded by deliberate and politically-motivated attacks and killings at least from 1894 onwards.

Turkey And The Armenian Genocide - Uncomfortable Truths That Must Be Faced

Part Two (of Three)

The Atrocities Of August 1894

"A number of able-bodied young Armenians were captured, bound, covered with brushwood and burned alive. A number of Armenians, variously estimated, but less than a hundred, surrendered themselves and pled for mercy. Many of them were shot down on the spot and the remainder were dispatched with sword and bayonet."

"A lot of women, variously estimated from 60 to 160 in number, were shut up in a church, and the soldiers were 'let loose' among them. Many of them were outraged to death and the remainder dispatched with sword and bayonet. A lot of young women were collected as spoils of war, Two stories are told. 1. That they were carried off to the harems of their Moslem captors. 2. That they were offered Islam and the harems of their Moslem captors; refusing, they were slaughtered. Children were placed in a row, one behind another, and a bullet fired down the line, apparently to see how many could be despatched with one bullet. Infants and small children were piled one on the other and their heads struck off. Houses were surrounded by soldiers, set on fire, and the inmates forced back into the flames at the point of the bayonet as they tried to escape."

"In another village fifty choice women were set aside and urged to change their faith and become hanums in Turkish harems, but they indignantly refused to deny Christ, preferring the fate of their fathers and husbands. People were crowded into houses which were then set on fire. In one instance a little boy ran out of the flames, but was caught on a bayonet and thrown back"

The above are accounts of massacres of Armenian villagers. These took place in the district of Sassoun (Sassun) in southeastern Anatolia near lake Van, in August 1894. They had taken place following false rumors of an uprising which developed in the spring. The Sassoun massacres were duplicated in the neighboring districts of Bitlis and Mush.

In March 1895 an inquiry committee was held in London, with details reported in the Daily Telegraph newspaper. An Armenian priest and his son were ordered to sign a document, claiming that the massacre at Sassoun had been carried out only by Kurds, and clearing the Turkish authorities of all blame. When these refused, heated iron triangles were placed around their necks. The pair were too ill to testify before the commititee.

Kurds had been involved in the Sassoun massacre, but the strategy was concocted and put into effect by Turkish soldiers. In adjacent Mush district: "a witness hiding in the oak scrub saw soldiers gouge out the eyes of two priests, who in horrible agony implored their tormentors to kill them. But the soldiers compelled them to dance while screaming in pain, and presently bayoneted them."

An account of the Bitlis massacre from 1895 stated (page 63): "As soon as the Pasha of Bitlis sent word to Constantinople that the Armenians were in revolt, without waiting for proof, the Turkish troops were sent to the scene with orders to suppress the revolt - orders which they knew they must interpret as meaning the extermination of whole villages if they would please the Sultan. After wholesale butchery, Zeki Pasha reported that, 'not finding any rebellion, we cleared the country so that none should occur in the future.' This stroke of policy was afterward praised in the Court as an act of patriotism."

The massacres of 1894 would be repeated, becoming more ferocious and claiming the lives of more people, over the next two years.

The Ottomans

The regions within Turkey's current borders have seen various cultures and civilizations arise and become replaced by others. The "Turks" are only the latest of a long line of invaders who moved into the region. 9,000 years ago Neolithic farming peoples at Çatal Hüyük formed a complex community. Almost 3,000 years ago Assyrians entered the region, and the Hittites developed a civilization in Anatolia until around 900 BC. Later Medes (probable ancestors of the Kurds), Persians, Phrygians, Lydians, Armenians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines flourished in the region.

The Turkish-speaking people (Western Turks) arrived in Anatolia in large numbers in the 11th century AD and their consolidation of power would hasten the end of the Byzantine Empire based at Constantinople. The language of the Western Turks gradually replaced the indigenous Indo-European languages of the region. The nomadic Turkic peoples originated in the Altai mountain regions in Central Asia, but from the 5th century AD onwards they had engaged in mass migrations. Turkic peoples are found in China (Uighirs) and and Siberia (Yakut). The Western Turks founded the Ottoman dynasty at the Western end of (modern) Turkey. From 1299 until its demise in 1924 this dynasty was known as the Ottoman Empire.

In 301 AD, Armenia had been the first nation in the world to officially adopt Christianity. As a distinct culture with an Indo-European language, Armenia had thrived in the mountains of Asia Minor from the 6th century BC. In the 16th century, Armenia lost its independence and was swallowed up by the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman aims were expansionist and warlike, and hostile to independent Christian nations. Sultan Bayezid I, nicknamed Yilderim or "Lightning", who ruled from 1389 to 1402, famously promised to feed his horse from the altar of St Peters in Rome.

At its height in 1683, the Ottoman Empire controlled territories stretching to the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea in the East, the land surrounding the Red Sea (including Mecca and Medina and Yemen) in the south, and the north African coast as far as Algeria in the West. In the north, it controlled the Crimea and all the land westwards nearly as far as Vienna. An attempt to invade Vienna itself was defeated by John Sobieski, king of Poland, on September 12, 1683. With more conflicts Hungary was freed from Ottoman rule, confirmed in the treaty of Karlowitz in 1699.

In the latter half of the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire was a diminished force. European imperialism had broken its hold on territories in North Africa, and European regions had declared their independence. Under Sultan Mahmud II (ruled 1808 - 1839) reforms and attempts to socially and economically modernize the Empire had been made, but these did not stem the decline. Greece had successfully fought for independence which it achieved in 1829, with its territorial borders formalized in a treaty in 1832. Several Balkan regions had declared their independence in 1875, and on April 24, 1877, Alexander II of Russia declared war on Turkey.

Abdul-Hamid II and the Hamidian Massacres

In 1876, 34-year old Abdul-Hamid II became the Sultan. Soon after taking power, he issued the first Imperial constitution on December 23, 1876. This constitution had been originally drafted by the grand vizier, Midhat Pasha. It allowed equal judicial rights for all citizens, and initiated a two-house parliament. Abdul-Hamid preferred to rule as a despot and when the Russo-Turkish war started he dismissed Pasha in February 1877 and in 1878 he abolished the constitution.

The Russian conflict ended with Turkey acknowledging defeat. As a result, on March 3, 1878 the Empire officially lost the territories of Serbia, Montenegro and Romania in the Treaty of San Stefano. Bosnia-Herzegovina was granted autonomy nd Bulgaria was placed under Russian protection under this treaty. The Treaty of Berlin, signed on July 13, 1878 by the Turks, Russians and European powers, lessened the Turks' financial debt to the victors and saw Bosnia-Herzegovina given to the Austro-Hungarian Empire..

Immediately before Abdul-Hamid's reign, the Armenians had lived peaceably under Ottoman rule. As Christians, they had been second-class citizens and had to pay the "jizya" tax, but they were not regarded as subject to persecutions. In 1856 an edict called the Hatti Humayoun, issued by Sultan Abdul Medjid in 1856, had guaranteed Christians rights never seen before under the Ottomans. Armenians wanted to be granted more freedoms under the Treaty of Berlin, which saw Batum (modern Armenia and parts of Georgia) ceded to Russia. Article 61 of the treaty guaranteed Armenians protection from attacks by Kurds and Circassians (who lived in the south-east of Turkey). Article 62 of the treaty demanded that people of all religions could work and travel freely throughout Turkey.

With these conditions not fulfilled, a radical group known as the Huntchagists emerged among the various Armenian populations, who lived in scattered locations in Turkey, with its apparent headquarters in Athens. In 1893 a US missionary condemned this revolutionary movement. Cyrus Hamlin quoted an Armenian who said of their motives (p. 242): "These Huntchagist bands, organized all over the empire, will watch their opportunities to kill Turks and Kurds, set fire to their villages and then make their escape into the mountains. The enraged Moslems will then rise and fall upon the defenseless Armenians and slaughter them with such barbarities that Russia will enter in the name of humanity and Christian civilization and take possession." The Huntchagists aimed to attack US Protestant missionary centers in central Turkey.

The American missionaries had been allowed in central Turkey since 1844, and these were to prove reliable witnesses to the deteriorating situation in Turkey, and also the first massacres of Armenians. The Huntchagist movement disintegrated after 1896, but Hamlin's testimony was cited in a letter to the New York Times of August 23, 1895. This letter tried to discredit the genuine massacre which took place at Sassoun, even though Hamlin had specifically blamed the Ottoman government for carrying out the Sassoun atrocities.

In 1896, Reverend Edwin Munsell Bliss published a book called Turkey and the Armenian Atrocities. He acknowledged the destructive elements of the Huntchagists, (page 336) and later noted that some revolutionaries, whether Huntchagists or not, sought to draw attention to their aims of a separate state. On January 5, 1893, placards were erected in Marsovan and Yuzgat, and indiscriminate arrests followed. Disturbances ensued in Yuzgat, Gemerek, Cesarea, and elsewhere, and the Turkish authorities reacted punitively, rounding up and torturing suspects. The polarization of communities had begun in earnest.

Rumors of a Hutchagist presence led to the Sassoun massacre, the first of the major atrocities against Armenian villagers. An investigative report into these massacres claimed (page 14) that Armenian Christians were being subjected to forcible conversions to Islam. In January, 1896 the local Ottoman authorities in Kharpout and Diarbekir told "converted" villagers that they should not admit to being Muslim if questioned. Conversions were happening in the provinces in Siras, Kharpout, Diarbekir, Betlis and Van. Priests and pastors lived in hiding, lest they be attacked for interfering with the forcible conversion of villagers. In twenty eight villages in the district of Kharpout, there had been no Christian worship since November of 1895.

"Another indirect method of destroying the Christian communities in the provinces lay in the systematic debauching of Christian women as though to destroy their self-respect and undermine their religious ethic. At Tamzara in the district of Shaska Kara Hussar, in the province of Livas, all the men were killed in the massacres early in November, of a prosperous Armenian population of fifteen hundred only about three hundred starving, half naked women and children remained. Trustworthy information said that the most horrible feature of their situation was that passing Mohammedan soldiery or civilian travelers attacked them and outraged them in their homes without hesitation or restraint."

On October 1, 1895 200 Armenians had tried to make a protest in Constantinople, and had been ordered by police to disperse. Panic broke out, and fearing an uprising , mosques encouraged reprisals. The following night, at least 70 Armenians were killed in the capital. At Trebizond (Trabzon) on the Black Sea coast in the east, a local Pasha was attacked, and soldiers were sent on regular foot patrols around the city. On October 8, these soldiers began shooting Armenian men, and shops were looted. On October 30, 1895 at Erzerum, soldiers and Turkish civilians had started firing at Armenians. After attacks that lasted two days, many of the bodies were mutilated and stripped. One man's forearms had been cut off, his upper arms and chest skinned. A British consul wrote that 1,200 people had been killed, and 512 wounded. The bodies were buried en masse in trenches (pictured).

On November 11, 1895 the village of Husenik near the eastern city of Harput was attacked by soldiers, some of whom dressed as Kurds. 200 Armenian villagers were killed. These marched on the city where around 100 Armenians were killed. Shortly after, the city of Arabkir was attacked, with 2,000 Armenians killed. Attacks also took place on numerous small villages. In many of these villages the women were carried off. At the town of Diarbekir, 2,000 were killed, at Chunkush 680 Armenians were slaughtered.

British missionary Helen B. Harris wrote on April 24, 1896 from the American College in Aintab: "There were about 300 killed here, November 16, 1895, and numbers mutilated, hands and right arms cut off, and eyes gouged out, to render the poor people helpless. Dr. Fuller says when they first got among these, the day after, the massacre, it was awful hearing them crying for death to end their sufferings." On November 18, 1895, a massacre of thousands took place at Marash. On December 28, another massacre of Armenians took place at Urfa with at least 3,000 lives lost.

There were more massacres at that time, and in many cases Armenian men were forced to convert or die. In Birejik in January 1896, about 96 men converted to Islam, and an equal number were killed. When one elderly man refused to convert to Islam, live coals were placed on his body. As he lay in pain, a Bible was held over him, and his tormentors asked him to read the passages of salvation that he had trusted in.

In the summer of 1896 one event took place which would instigate a catastrophic crackdown on the Armenian population of Turkey. The main office of the Ottoman Bank in Constantinople was raided by a group of 26 Armenian revolutionaries on August 26. Nine of the group were killed in the initial raid, including their leader Babgien Siuni, and guards were shot. The remaining raiders, members of the Dashtun party, took 140 bank workers hostage.

The raiders intended to draw international attention to the plight of Armenians in Turkey, but before the situation came to a resolution, recriminations against Armenians began, with 7,000 people killed by angry Turkish citizenry in Constantinople. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Maghakia Ormanian, excommunicated the bank raiders, but this did not quell general Turkish anger at the Armenian communities.

The massacres at the end of the 19th century, which were carried out with the connivance and approval of Sultan Abdul-Hamid II are collectively known as the Hamidian massacres. In 1896, Abdul-Hamid had been chastened by international condemnations, and his orders to attack and forcibly convert Armenians stopped. The attacks lessened, but only for a while. Soon, another campaign of massacres would take place. This campaign was instigated not by Abdul-Hamid but by a new breed of Turkish political activists, who would go on to commit the genocide of 1915. These activists were known as the Young Turks.

This article was also published at

Adrian Morgan is a British based writer and artist who has written for Western Resistance since its inception. He has previously contributed to various publications, including the Guardian and New Scientist and is a former Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Society.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.



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